people were so mad at jonathan franzen on the internet yesterday and i didn’t actually look up why but i have to say it made me weirdly nostalgic for–i don’t know, 2014? 2015? when i too was very mad at jonathan franzen–like nostalgic for a time when i had the energy to be mad at jonathan franzen,* god bless him, which sent me into a deep khole of looking at my old blog (which is totally unsearchable, you really have to click “next entry” for every post, god bless you if you want to try), but which was also a time when i wrote a lot about hope and surviving and all the books i was reading, and i don’t have a lot of energy right now for hope or surviving, but i am still reading a lot of books, and maybe it is time to tell you about some of them again. thanks, jonathan franzen. baby steps.
i don’t know about you but other than going to the arctic 2018 has been a rough year for me, both personally and globally. but there are still a lot of great people in my life, and i still read (past and present tense) a lot of great books, so here you go. and here’s to thriving in the darktime.
i read Split Tooth a while ago and i have been thinking about it ever since, it’s one of those books that sticks in you and doesn’t let go. if you don’t know tanya tagaq’a music you should! and you should also read this difficult gorgeous mix of myth and memory and poetry and fiction, about growing up in a tiny inuit community in nunavut and trauma and history and resilience—it is a tough book for sure but it is also full of moments that are so beautiful they make you forget to breathe for a minute, kind of like the world right now. No one is immune to tenderness, she writes, and also, Start again.
négar djavadi’s Disoriental is one of my favorite books i read in this or any other year—i reread A Tale for the Time Being last week, because i really needed it, and you know how coming to the end of A Tale for the Time Being feels like being held very tightly by someone older and wiser than you who isn’t going to say things will be okay because probably they won’t or even you are going to be okay because you might not but instead says baby you gotta keep going, because there’s nowhere else to go, be brave? the end of Disoriental feels like that too. narrated from the waiting room of a fertility clinic for reasons that gradually become clear, it’s the story of kimiâ sadr, who fled iran with her mother and sisters as a ten-year-old to join her political refugee father in paris, and as kimiâ tells you the whole extraordinary story of her family and her history you fall more and more in love with her and by the time she gets to herself—a punk queer exile with no homeland other than getting in trouble, with a difficult relationship with her family, with a complicated history of her own—you will be, i assure you, an absolute goner, until the novel’s final pages, which will break your heart and mend it in the same breath. this one is really special, i am telling you.
i still read a lot about the arctic—i am trying to get back to the arctic, i have a few irons in a few fires, i will let you know how that goes. Ice Ghosts is a quite fascinating account of the search for the lost Franklin expedition of 1845, one of the more famous Nobody Listened to the Inuit so Everybody Died expeditions (spoiler alert: if you want to explore the arctic it’s a good idea to pay attention to the people who have lived there already for several thousand years, they know what they’re doing), and also gets into a lot of the extremely weird and frequently sinister politics around looking for famous things in the arctic (did you know Stephen Harper supported the search for Franklin’s lost ships as part of a larger plan to get voters on board with extracting billions of dollars’ worth of resources from the seabed of an increasingly ice-free arctic? me neither). i am also reading peter wadhams’ A Farewell to Ice, which i can only read a little bit at a time because it keeps making me cry, but it is an astonishingly beautiful book—turns out sometimes scientists are secret poets, especially when they are writing what is essentially an elegy for the thing they love most in the world. i'll let you know how this one goes.
this is a really hard time to be alive and i love you. baby, you gotta keep going, because there’s nowhere else to go. be brave.
*(my best jonathan franzen story is from many years ago when i was still mad at jonathan franzen and the Q train was out so i got stuck on a shuttle bus with about 14,000 other very angry and unhopeful people and i was probably a little bit drunk and definitely devastatingly broke and it was a Dark Night in my life and the shuttle got stuck somewhere around empire boulevard and my apartment was so far away and i yelled, sobbing, into the seething morass, jonathan franzen does not have to deal with this shit! and you know what, i wasn’t wrong. jonathan franzen has never ridden a Q shuttle bus in his life. like i said, god bless him.)